Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Coin Locker Babies by Ryu Murakami

Japanese Literature 4

Coin Locker Babies by Ryu Murakami (1980, trans.  from the Japanese, 1985 by Stephen Synder, 392 pages)

Ryu Murakami (1952-not related to Haruki Murakami) has played in a rock band and had his own talk show on Japanese TV.    He is best known for several novels that depict alienated people in their teens and twenties from the darker side of life in Tokyo.    Many have the image of the Japanese novel as depicting a world of extreme refinement and high culture in which hours are spent talking about the color patterns in a favorite kimono, the old days before WWII, the nuances of puppet theater and family ties that go back a thousand years.   There are a lot of beautiful wonderful novels that do just that in a masterful way.    If a man in one of these books has an extra-marital encounter it is with a geisha of the highest standing.   In Coin Locker Babies it is with an unknown woman in an alley with no names exchanged while they are observed by the denizens of Toxic Town who yell out their comments on the looks of the woman.   A lot of people have read some of the novels of Natsuo Kirino such as Real World, Out or Grotesque that depict live among those left out by the prosperity of contemporary Japan.   Many say they find the world depicted in her novels almost too hard to take at times.   Well, life in her works is High Tea at the Peninsula Hotel Tokyo in comparison to life in the world of Coin Locker Babies.     Coin Locker Babies has one of the most jarring attention grabbing first lines I have read in a while.   I think some people might be so offended by it (either because they find it offensive or because they will see it as basically cheap sensationalism) that they will stop reading the novel.   I had to read it three times to be sure I was getting it right in my mind!  

The  two male central characters were left in a coin locker in a transit station in Tokyo by their mother shortly after their birth.   They spend their growing up years in an orphanage and with a series of foster parents.   As they get older their thinking becomes dominated by a desire to get revenge on the mother who abandoned them.  From there they move on to trying to figure out how to destroy all of Tokyo.    Along the way to find their mother the boys have a lot of adventures.   One services the sexual needs of other males in Toxic Town and becomes a champion pole vaulter.   One becomes a well known rock star.   They each fall in love.    All sorts of sexual encounters are described (expect one between two people who care about each other), every body is corrupt, really ugly looking, crazy,  perverted  etc.    One of the boys falls in love with a woman who keeps a two meter alligator as a pet in her small apartment that she has turned into a swamp.   There is unpredictable violence everywhere.

This is a funny book.   It is not high culture and some would say  it is shock literature that you read just to see what crazy thing will happen next.      It does seem written for readers who need constant action and stimulation.   I enjoyed this book.   There is a dark beauty in the world in depicts.   It has a lot to say about the life of people who do not quite fit in perfectly with society.   There are deep themes in this work.

I liked this book.   It is kind of escapist reading in part. Some will see it as not worth their time as there are much better Japanese authors including one who shares Ryu's last name.     I  would endorse it  for those like a wild ride and can shrug off  some scenes that would make a faithful movie of the book X rated and some real violence and harsh treatment of women.  I will note personally that I was annoyed  by references in the novel to women from the Philippines as all being prostitutes (the book uses another word).   I will read other books by Ryu Murakami but I do not really suggest it for someone just getting into the Japanese novel.   If you want a look at the dark side of modern Japan read the works of Kirino first.

I most note the print is very small.  I know small print saves publishers money but I may avoid other books by  the publisher, Kodansha International, as they all seem to have quite small print.

Mel u


Zimlicious said...

I've never read any Japanese literature before, and this one does sound interesting. Will add it to my wishlist =)

Suko said...

You have me curious about that first sentence. Terrific review, even though this one sounds too wild for me.

Mel u said...

Simay-this is a fun book but I would not make it a first Japanese novel-After Dark would be a good choice

Suko-thanks as always

Eileen said...

I'm not a timid reader but I do have reservations about this author. He also wrote Audition which has been made into an absolutely stomach-churning film (of the Hostel variety). Nothing against shock literature per se, but when a guy constantly relies on demonizing women, that raises a red flag for me.

Little Lady said...

This is going on my reading list. =) I'm currently reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by the other Murakami, and have read After Dark (but will read again! I love rereading novels)